More action at EFSA

The Management Board of the European Food Safety Authority received the first presentation from its Executive Director, Geoffrey Podger, at their meeting today, and reviewed the latest developments in the set up of the Authority. In addition to the presentation on the way forward for EFSA in 2003, the latest information on the recruitment of scientists, the budget, the permanent location and the set up of its Advisory Forum was presented and discussed.

'' This was a landmark meeting,’ said Stuart Slorach, Chairman of the Board. ‘It’s the first time, since Geoffrey Podger came into post, that the Board have had the opportunity to get together with him to discuss the future of the Authority. It’s also the first meeting after the set up of the EFSA Advisory Forum, so we have had the chance to look at developments there as well."

Mr Podger presented his view of the ways that he would like the Authority to develop over the short, medium and long terms. In particular, he highlighted the importance of EFSA being the centre of a network, rather than being seen as a lone organisation. This means that effective cooperation between the Authority and the Member States is high on the agenda, and that the role of the Advisory Forum will be very important, both in risk assessment and in risk communication. Mr Podger also highlighted the limited capacity of EFSA with current staff numbers, and presented his proposal for well managed expansion in 2003 and 2004, subject to budget availability.

The deadline for applications having passed, the Board were told that more than a thousand scientists have applied for membership of the EFSA Scientific Committee and panels. As these are the backbone of EFSA’s work, it is intended that the evaluation process will result in high quality, well balanced panels capable of carrying out effective risk assessment at EU level in the future. The evaluation of the applicants is already under way, so that the best possible shortlist can be proposed to the Board for approval at their meeting on 29th April. The Board have endorsed the selection process to be used noting that, for the first time, it contained an independent audit, and that the views of Member States would also be sought.

The issue of involving high quality scientists with a connection to industry in the risk assessment process was also discussed. In such cases, there should be a clear declaration of interest and the integrity of the panels must be preserved.

With respect to the budget, EFSA had sent a letter to the Parliament clarifying the adverse consequences of withholding the €8,249,252 which they had held in reserve. These include a slowing down of staff recruitment; delays in making EFSA’s Scientific Committee and panels fully operational; and the resultant inability to meet the high expectations that consumers and others have on the Authority. As a result of this, and subsequent discussions, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee have examined the situation and they will recommend to the Budget Committee that they should release further funds for EFSA. The Board welcomed the Environment Committee decision.

The Board noted that the first meeting of the Advisory Forum had been held on 6/7th March. This body is vital to future EU food safety, as it comprises the representatives of Member State organisations with responsibilities similar to those of EFSA and it will work right at the heart of the EU food safety network. During the meeting, it was made clear that there was substantial commitment from EFSA and the Member States to work together in the most effective way possible. Therefore, the activities of the Advisory Forum will play a major role in enabling earlier recognition, and more efficient solution, of issues which cross EU borders, and will substantially enhance cooperation in risk assessment and communication between Member States. The new Member States were also represented at the meeting.

Deirdre Hutton presented a position paper which focussed on the determination of emerging risk. The main issues addressed were; the role of the Board in the process by which EFSA identifies emerging issues, and; how to ensure a balanced allocation of resources between routine work and horizon scanning for emerging risk. A further personal paper was presented by Bart Sangster on risk assessment, which aimed at advancing transparency and scientific robustness. Both papers, and the discussion which followed, helped to shape the Board’s thinking with respect to EFSA’s role and added value. This will be taken forward with the Scientific Committee, when appointed.

Finally, in support of EFSA’s EU wide role, the Board also decided that it would be appropriate to hold some of their meetings in different Member States. A formal invitation had been received from the Irish Food Safety Authority, and it was agreed that the March 2004 meeting will be held in Dublin during the Irish Presidency.